Archive for Thursday, July 22, 2004

New Bonner volleyball coach takes first swing with team

July 22, 2004

Throughout Jo Morrison's playing days on the volleyball court at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School, her mom, Suzie, saved just about everything related to her daughter's team.

Now, four years later, It looks like Suzie better get another scrapbook primed and ready, because Jo Morrison was recently introduced as the new varsity volleyball coach at Bonner Springs High School.

Morrison, a 1999 graduate of SMNW, comes to Bonner Springs to replace Staci Lowe, the former Bravettes coach who recently stepped down to spend more time with her family.

At age 23, Morrison hardly looks the part of a varsity volleyball coach. In fact with her glowing blonde hair and her youthful smile, she at times more resembles the players she's coaching than the person picked to lead them. But when she opens her mouth, things get quiet and Morrison commands respect.

That was one of the things that BSHS athletic director Garold Baker said stood out about Morrison when the administration was looking for the right replacement for Lowe.

"We're really excited about having Jo," Baker said. "And the main reason we're excited is because she's so excited. She's young and I think the kids will relate to her really well. They're going to have a lot of fun this season and we're thrilled to have her."

Morrison might be the only one capable of surpassing the BSHS administration's excitement about her arrival. She knew that one day she would become a high school volleyball coach, she just didn't know it would be so soon.

"I always knew that I eventually would wind up doing it," Morrison said. "But to get to do it so soon is great. I'm really excited about bringing my love of the game to younger girls and watching them grow to love it the way I do."

Morrison graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in education. During her four years in Manhattan she said she dabbled in other areas of study, but each time she did she always got cold feet when she considered not becoming a coach and a teacher.

In high school, Morrison was a standout for the Lady Cougars volleyball team, playing all positions and hitting big-time blasts from her favorite position at outside hitter. During her senior season, in 1999, Morrison helped lead SMNW to a second-place finish at the 6A state tournament. After high school she turned down two full-ride scholarship offers -- one in Iowa and one in North Carolina -- because she didn't want to move that far from home. K-State was the perfect distance, she said, so she gave up her playing career and focused on academics. While at K-State she played in several intramural leagues and volunteered to help coach middle school volleyball teams. She said she missed the game too much to not stay involved in some way, and that's why she's here today.

"I definitely miss the playing and the intensity of being on the court," she said. "The thing that's neat about coaching is that I'm going to get to see the game from a different side of it. I'm not going to be able to get out there and play, but I'm going to try my best to bring that kind of energy of wanting to be out there to the girls."

That should be no problem, if the Bravettes' annual summer camp is any indication. For four days this week, Morrison and her assistant coaches, Becky Brents (JV) and Beth Dillon (freshmen), put on a camp for more than 45 budding volleyball players in the area.

When told of the camp's turnout, Baker was astonished, and said that he felt that was an indication that the school clearly made the right choice.

"We haven't had 45 girls at a volleyball camp in ages," he said. "That's awesome. I know all of those girls have been working hard this summer, and to see those kinds of results just shows how dedicated they are." All three Bravettes coaches recently attended a coaching clinic in St. Louis, and Morrison said the adjustment process is moving along nicely. That's thanks in large part to Brents, who was the only carry over from last year's staff.

Brents said she's more than happy to help out, and that she thought it was important to provide some familiarity to a new program.

"It's helped because I know most of the girls," Brents said. "And that makes the girls more comfortable with the situation. I'm kind of like the middle ground for the players and the coaches. But I think this is going to be a lot of fun. Jo's excited, she has energy and it hasn't been that long since she played high school volleyball. We're all young, and it's kind of like we're all starting together at the same time. That makes it even more fun."

Once camp closes on Thursday, July 22, Morrison will have a little more than three weeks to prepare for the team's first real practice. After that, they'll have less than two weeks to prepare for the first meet.

While the pace with which the season is approaching has been a little much at times, Morrison said she's starting to feel more comfortable with everything and that's only making her more excited.

"I was feeling a little overwhelmed at first, but everything's starting to come together," she said. "I've always been excited about the coaching part, but it was the logistics that made me nervous."

Those logistics include ordering T-shirts, ordering equipment, picking out uniforms and preparing for home meets, all things Morrison concedes she'll have to learn on the fly during her first year.

But now that the balls have been broken out and she's been able to put some names with some faces, she said it all seems worth it.

"Everything I saw this week was real positive, and I can tell I have a good group of girls to work with," she said.

That's not coach speak, that's sincere. A genuine care for the girls and love of the game can be detected in Morrison's voice, and words of encouragement like "hustle," "focus," and "good try," are the main course on her volleyball menu. And that's making her players take notice.

"I think a lot of this first week was just getting to know the coach," said Chase Crouch, Morrison's top returning varsity player. "I think she's really nice, and she seems to know what she's doing. I think we're in good hands."

Morrison will teach social studies -- U.S. History and Geography -- during her first full year of teaching, and she's looking forward to that part of her new job just as much.

"I know I'm definitely going to be very tired," she said. "But that's OK, because volleyball's my first love. I've got lots of energy and I can't wait to get started."

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